Thursday, June 30, 2011

painting: bee on gallardia

Here's another bee sporting an impressive pollen sac-- that yellowish bulge on the leg. She's seen here on a Gaillardia bloom, aka 'blanket flower'-- presumably because the striking pattern of the petals was thought to resemble 'the brightly patterned blankets made by native Americans.'
There are a number of species of the plant-- all in bright cheerful combinations of various reds & yellows, and they are especially welcome in the California summer for their low-fuss drought tolerant qualities.

as the blossoms open

Sunday, June 26, 2011

painting: bee on blackberry blossom


A huge source of bee activity these days in my neck of the woods are the blackberry blossoms blooming along every back road, bike trail and creek at this time of year. And did you know how strongly the flavor of honey is influenced by the plants on which bees seek nectar during the season?  Some beekeeping neighbors, who not long ago moved their hives with them from the East Bay to their current home near the Graton Bike Trail, say all their honey now is blackberry honey.

"There exist greater than 300 different distinct types of honey. Flavor, aroma and color of a honey can differ substantially based on the flowers that nectar was collected from. Honey flavors range from slight hints of sweetness to great bounds of distinct flavor, its colors similarly can run the gambit of being a clear as water to a deep dark brown. There exist as many flavors of honey in the world as exists combinations of blossoms in bloom at the same time.via wikibooks
Click over here for more info on varieties of honey, including lists of the attributes (including color differences) which are dependent on the plants bees have visited.

Friday, June 24, 2011

paintings: Four Bees on Blues


For Friday of National Pollinator Week, I bring you not one, but four! small paintings of bees.

clockwise from top left: on verbena, on scabiosa, on verbena again, on borage. All are bona fide bee magnets in our Sonoma County Garden.

all paintings approx. 5 x 5", acrylic on plywood

Thursday, June 23, 2011

painting: bee on verbascum

bee on verbascum, acrylic on plywood, 8.5 x 7"
Today's bee is gathering pollen on verbascum, aka mullein. (Specifically, verbascum bombyciferum 'Arctic Summer', which I got at the awesome Annie's Annuals.) The fact that bees might EITHER be collecting nectar OR pollen from a given flower is something I learned about over on the excellent blog 'Old Drone': bees, pollination and more', written by a retired commercial beekeeper. The difference in the behavior of bees engaged in each activity became quite obvious once I knew of it.
"To collect nectar, or to collect pollen is a choice. Worker bees that are collecting nectar take longer in each flower, probing the flower’s nectaries with their tongues for sweet droplets which they carry in their crops back to the hives. Bee that are gathering nectar will accomplish some pollination by accident.

But other bees make the choice to deliberately gather pollen, likely because there is quite a bit of open brood in the hive that requires the pollen for protein for its development....These bees do not probe with their tongues; rather they “doggy paddle” through the stamens to get as much pollen as possible to adhere to their fuzzy bodies. Then they comb this pollen into their pollen baskets and carry it home. Bees that are deliberately gathering pollen are as much as ten times more efficient pollinators than those who are gathering nectar."
Bees who have been actively pollinating have clearly visible bulges on the hind legs-- which is pollen stored in their pollen sacs.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

painting: bee on Lamb's Ear

Today's bee of the day, (for Pollinator's Week) appears on 'Lamb's Ear', aka stachys byzantina. We don't actually have this in our garden (yet!) but it was growing a couple blocks up the street, where I could see that bees are in fact wild about it. (painting approx. 5 x 5", acrylic on plywood)

At left, you can see the Lamb's Ear (the white-grey spires in the center) as growing at Oak Grove Elementary School, Sonoma County.

The leaves are soft and fuzzy (hence the name), and I believe it to spread easily. "Lamb’s ears is very hardy, and very easy to grow. It requires full sun, good drainage, and little more. Over the years your patch will become overgrown and will need to be thinned out every, perhaps, 2-3 years. To keep the patch neat you can cut back the flowering stems once they have finished flowering and they are beginning to develop seeds." Apparently the plant may also have some medicinal uses. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

painting: honeybee on verbena

In honor of National Pollinator Week, I'll be posting a new bee painting each day this week. Today's bee is featured on verbena bonariensis, a favorite of bees & butterflies alike. Super easy to grow, & reseeds FREELY. Will grow up to 6, 7 feet tall with small clusters of flowers, and almost no foliage. (painting 5 x 5", acrylic on plywood)

photo at left: bee at work on verbena in my Sonoma County community garden plot

Monday, June 20, 2011

It's National Pollinator Week!

Lots of people know that honeybees are in trouble, and our food system along with 'em... but perhaps less have a clear grasp of how the pollination process works (and I'm speaking for myself here!) There's a frisky little explanation of the process over at Bug Girl's Blog, which ultimately boils down to three words: Sex for Plants!

Now National Pollinator Week seeks to educate & celebrate the process, while helping us to become better stewards of our environment. There's a page of super-nicely designed planting guides on their site here, where you can input your zip code to determine your zone (I'm in California Coastal Steppe-- Mixed Forest-Redwood Forest Province) and then find out more about what you can plant & do to help out your local pollinators!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How this Bee Painting Project began

I'm a painter and gardener living in Sonoma County, about one hour north of San Francisco.
In May of 2010, I started a series of paintings on small salvaged scraps of plywood inspired by the interesting spherical blooms of buddleia globosa in my garden.
I shot a bunch of photos of the plant-- and in every photo there were bees, climbing busily over all the blossoms.  After a while, I put a bee into one of the images, and soon all seven of the paintings contained bees.
This year in spring, again I was looking for a way to make some small, very direct paintings, and again I turned to bees-- this time individual bees, each centered like a portrait on its smaller block of wood. The size & format of the paintings, coupled with the subject satisfied something in me. As an avid gardener who has kept up a garden blog for 5 years-- I'm used to waking up and photographing plants and flowers in the yard and watching as things change over the year. I'm now focussing my camera more actively on the bees as they go about their business, and noticing which plants they favor as they come into bloom from day to day. Of course, we have all heard of the danger that honeybees face from colony collapse disorder, and I'm happy to think that perhaps in my small way, by providing friendly habitat, I'm helping to keep our local bee population robust. Part of my intention, as I follow my bees through the seasons in paintings which I will post here, is to learn more about them, and to share some of that information with anyone who cares to follow along with me.

The current series of bee paintings underway are quite small--from 3 x 5" to 5 x 5", all painted in acrylic on salvaged plywood. Most will be of bees observed in my own Sonoma County yard, and so far, photographed at very close range with a little Canon Powershot.

Feel free to write me at Lisabee(at) (and note that you must spell out the b-e-e  or it won't reach me)